To see Dale hurt, still hurts.

Erin Thomas,
Riverside, CA.

In 1956, when I was in 4th grade (9-10 years old), we had a less-than-kind teacher, but you were taught to respect your teacher, no matter what. We were sitting in a circle on the floor having some kind of sharing session and the teacher had a boy, Dale, stand up in the middle of the circle. In my memory, Dale was a small boy, and skinny. He was darker skinned than any of the rest of the class (we were all white). I think he was Pakistani. He also had large front teeth that stuck out a little. Dale was one of the sweetest kids anywhere. I remember Mrs. S. asking him why his skin was dark and if he ever washed. Of course he was mortified and tried to respond. We were all stunned into silence. I recall she also made some kind of remark about his teeth, calling him a mouse because of his teeth. Finally, when he couldn’t answer, she told him to sit down and went on with the conversation. You could cut the tension in the room with a knife though NOT ONE of us said anything or stood up for him. I think we were so shocked, we couldn’t believe it was happening. I don’t remember telling my parents about it either and that teacher went on to teach for 25+ years. I remember telling my mother (also a teacher) about it years later when the teacher had died (or retired) and my mother was shocked because she had never heard of this teacher behaving like that. I never could understand what would possess this woman to do that to a defenseless kid and I have always been disappointed in myself that I did not feel empowered to stand up for him. But then, we were a mostly white upper middle class community and I never had occasion to witness injustice like that first hand. I suppose on some level I was not taught to stand up for others.

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